Homesteader: 1890 – 2016

April 20, 2016

Northwest Oregon’s state-owned forests are comprised of less than .01% old growth, a stunning number that indicates their fraught history of devastating fires and aggressive logging. A notable patch of the Clatsop State Forest contains a timber sale known as “Homesteader.” One part of this sale (Area 2) especially, contained a stand trees upwards of 125 years old that had survived massive fires and over a century of logging. This parcel had numerous old growth characteristics and showed signs of providing rare habitat for threatened species, including marbled murrelets, red tree voles, and northern spotted owls. The area also contained “survey and manage” species that, on National Forest land, would have required that no logging occur in the entire stand of old growth. Unfortunately, such protections do not apply to state forest lands. Its location on the bank of the Nehalem River also makes Area 2 important to aquatic species. And, for about two years, activists, surveyors, and researchers exploring the area enjoyed its accessibility, tranquility, and abundance of biodiversity.

Beginning in April of 2015, thousands of Oregonians submitted public comments to the Oregon Department of Forestry [ODF] asking that this parcel of old growth not be logged. Official public comments were supplemented by letters, media pieces, and general outcry from Oregonians (especially Clatsop County residents). The voices were varied but the message was clear: “old growth is rare, it is critical, it should not be logged.”

ODF responded to this message rapidly. On state forests, timber sales commonly take 1-3 years between the announcement of the sale in an Annual Operations Plan and commencement of logging. In the case of Homesteader, perhaps because of intense public scrutiny and dissent, logging occurred less than 10 months after being announced. The trees were auctioned off in January and as of March, what used to be a lush forest is now something altogether different:

Cut - Tryg

Photo by Trygve Steen

Part of the blame for this expedited degradation of public land can be placed on ODF. However, the Agency is in a bind. They are expected to manage these state forests for a suite of values—social, environmental, and economic—yet they are only funded by logging. Moreover, 2/3 of state forest revenue goes to counties while 1/3 is retained by ODF. In 2015, state forest logging contributed $55 million to counties across Oregon. And yet, some counties are engaging in a disruptive lawsuit claiming that state forests are not producing enough timber! Meanwhile, ODF’s budget, like other natural resource agencies, continues to dwindle.

Oregon has changed and is changing. Logging is no longer a primary economic driver. While logging will remain a part of our history, culture, and (to an extent) our economy, Oregon’s present and future is built around outdoor recreation, fisheries, tourism, quality of life, and natural beauty. Yet private and public forest management has so far failed to keep up with the will of the people. Part of catching up is a balanced management plan for our coastal state forests, a plan that protects critical areas like Homesteader.

Photo by Trygve Steen

Photo by Trygve Steen


Earth Day: Past and Present

April 19, 2016

In recent years, Earth Day has come to be associated with buying green. Earth Day is coming up; buy compostable bamboo plates for your next picnic. Earth Day is coming up; offset your airline miles by donating to rain-forest preservation. Earth Day is coming up; buy yourself a pair of athletic pants made from recycled plastic bottles.

While mindful purchases do make a difference, the greater meaning of Earth Day is often drowned in a puddle of consumerism. Shouldn’t Earth Day be about activism? When it first began, Earth Day was a revolution, one intended to question our values. It wasn’t about buying things; it was about demanding change.

Proxy Falls Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon, USA

Proxy Falls
Three Sisters Wilderness,
Oregon, USA

It’s been 46 years since the first Earth Day. April 22nd, 1970 was a day of nationwide rallies, protests, demonstrations, and environmental activism. College students, environmental organizations—including the Sierra Club—and political groups joined together to build awareness around the many environmental ills they had witnessed; pollution, sewage dumping, toxic waste, oil spills, and declining wilderness.

The man behind Earth Day was Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. The 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired him to host a national teach-in on the environment—which ended up becoming the extensive mass of activism known as Earth Day. He recruited Congressman Pete McCloskey and Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes—an activist against the Vietnam War—and a staff of 85 people to help him plan events all over the country. Their work paid off; the public outcry of 20 million people and an influx of awareness led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, which continue to uphold the environmental values of those original protestors.

As we all know, Earth Day didn’t stop there. It became an annual event, serving as a celebration of the Earth’s beauty, a kindling of hope for a greener future, as well as a tool for building movements and amassing support for the environment.

Rather than remaining an American holiday, Earth Day went on to become globally recognized. Thanks again to organization by Denis Hayes, 141 countries participated in Earthy Day 1990. Efforts were focused on promoting recycling and halting rainforest destruction. Restoration, tree planting, and community works caught on as new ways take action. Earth Day became a chance for different cultures to band together, and to unite over something we all care about—the well-being of our shared planet.

In the new millennium, much of the focus has been on climate change. Protestors have demanded swift action, a transition to

Getting kids outside is hugely important to public health.

clean energy, and an end to fossil fuel use. Both 2000 and 2010 were big years for Earth Day. The international approach was upheld and broadened to over 180 countries. Hayes has continued to organize awareness events worldwide, including a campaign to plant over 1 billion trees. With another milestone year coming up in 2020, more big events are in the works.

Earth Day 2016 may not be a milestone by number, but it will surely be remembered for years to come. On April 22nd, China and the U.S. will band together to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. By taking early initiative in signing the agreement, both countries hope to set a precedent for the remaining 55 countries who need to sign on. With climate change accelerating, this action is crucial. Public support, as well as a demand for further solutions to climate change, will play an integral part in developing a clean energy future.1384381_10151988737616213_1384143042826289730_n

The history of Earth Day is proof of its power—Earth Day allows us to grab the world’s attention. It gives us a stage on which to demand change. It should not be an opportunity to ease our guilt. It should not leave us saying, we ate locally today; we bought organic socks, so we’ve paid our penance for the year. We should be making environmentally friendly choices each and every day, with Earth Day serving as a magnifying glass and a microphone; it should be the spurring point of action, the rapids before the waterfall, the point of coalescence for all those who care. Earth Day is a powerful tool; let’s use it.

You can help put the activism back in Earth Day (and every day) by getting involved in your community or volunteering with local environmental groups, like the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club.


Stopping LNG Export through Oregon: Both Projects Collapse!

April 18, 2016

By Ted Gleichman

They seemed insurmountable at first: two massive methane export projects in under-employed Oregon, one on the south bank of the Lower Columbia, and the other grabbing a struggling industrial port on the southern Oregon Coast.  Each $7 billion-plus plan required hundreds of miles of new pipelines, feeding fracked gas from the Rockies and Western Canada into enormous new processing plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG) at minus-261° Fahrenheit, for “terrorist-magnet” tanker export, with mandatory Coast Guard protection, embargoing other shipping hundreds of days per year, to ship LNG to Asia.

LNG tanker

Long-term profits would be tens of billions, with thousands of construction jobs.  And natural gas was the bridge to the future, twice as good as good ol’ coal.  Developers rolled in with instantaneous political support.  Lonely enviros and community activists fighting LNG faced epic headwinds: quixotic struggles by definition.

What a difference a decade makes.  Suddenly this spring, our long-term opposition has blended with global market reversal on oil and gas pricing, scientific evolution on fossil fuel climate impact, and comprehensive evidence of irredeemable ecological destruction to put both projects on the edge of oblivion.  

On Friday, March 11, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) quietly published an unprecedented decision: the commissioners voted unanimously to deny licenses to the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline (PCGP) and the Jordan Cove Energy Project (JCEP).  In Oregon and nationally, almost all observers were shocked: FERC has been widely seen as just a rubber stamp.

If this decision holds, 232 miles of 36-inch explosive pipeline will not slice along a new perpetual clearcut as wide as an interstate highway, and the Port of Coos Bay will not be dominated by gargantuan towers built on a sand spit for LNG that Asia can now get more cheaply elsewhere.

And then, on Friday afternoon, April 15, an unnamed official for Oregon LNG (OLNG), requesting anonymity, telephoned the mayor and planning director of Warrenton, the small town on the Lower Columbia where OLNG planned to build their LNG export terminal on dredging spoils.  The OLNG staffer said their struggling parent company, Leucadia National Corp., would no longer fund their development, so they will withdraw their land use application and abandon terminal and pipeline permitting fights. Simultaneously, an OLNG lawyer emailed the state Department of Environmental Quality, withdrawing state permit requests, and copied the Oregon Attorney General.

If this decision extends to every aspect of OLNG, they will withdraw their pending Final Environmental Impact Statement with FERC, cancelling their planned 87-mile pipeline across Northern Oregon (and perhaps killing another 130 miles of new gas pipeline from Canada through Washington State) to feed a terminal on unstable soil.

Each project was planned, insanely, for the largest, most dangerous earthquake and tsunami zone in North America, the Cascadia subduction zone.  The Pacific Northwest is guaranteed to experience a Magnitude 8-9 seismic monstrosity; coastal elevations may change by some 30 feet in about eight minutes.  This last hit in 1700; it averages every 250 years; and has about a 1/3 chance of striking during the projected lifespan of these projects.

Together, OLNG and JCEP/PCGP planned to export more than two billion cubic feet of refined methane per day: about three times the Oregon daily use.  But now we know there is no fossil fuels solution to the fossil fuels crisis: fugitive methane is a much worse climate disrupter than carbon dioxide.

windmillsSo the jobs and climate arguments are now flipped.  Oregon needs a two-part sustainability program: resilience and renewables.  We must rebuild First-Responder, transportation, and community infrastructure for resilience against our earthquake, and we must convert our energy economy to decentralized and utility-scale smart-grid renewables, bolstered with conservation and efficiency.

The impending demise of the only two LNG export projects on the US West Coast is giving us a teachable moment to help heal our corner of the world, for the better: maybe forever.

————

Ted Gleichman is former chair of and current policy advisor for the Oregon Chapter Beyond Gas & Oil Team, and a member of the national strategy team for the National Sierra Club Stop Dirty Fuels Initiative.


Volunteer Spotlight: Dian Odell

March 25, 2016

SI Exif

Dian Odell has been volunteering with the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club since August 2014. She comes in twice a week to help out in the office. “Usually entry of donations and event attendance into Helen (the central Sierra Club database), preparing for mailings, research, procedure documentation. But also computer support, ‘cleaning’, optimizing, [and] upgrading,” Dian said.

When she saw a posting for the Sierra Club on a local volunteering website, she knew it would be a good fit for her. “I certainly support the work of the Sierra Club, and the work they wanted done was certainly within my skill set,” Dian said.

As a retiree, Dian enjoys having a schedule and a routine, and maintaining structure in her days. “My objectives are to be useful, learn new things, and work with nice people,” Dian said. “I certainly have all those working with Hilary and the others at the Ankeny office.”

Dian grew up in Oregon, attending primary school in La Grande. “[It was a] small town, in the 1950’s—idyllic for kids,” Dian said. In middle school she moved to Portland and, aside from four years of college in California, and two years of the Peace Corps in South Korea, she’s been a Portlander ever since.

Dian keeps active in her daily life; she takes swimming and yoga classes; she’s an usher for Portland’5 and Portland Center Stage; and she spends ample time with her friends and grandchildren. These days she said she does “more ‘walking’ instead of ‘hiking’”, but she still loves being outdoors. She enjoys traveling to Central Oregon “for the different weather and smells there”, to the mountains for downhill skiing, and to the Columbia and Willamette for water skiing and sailing.

Each week Dian spends 10-12 hours donating her time and talents to the Sierra Club. Volunteers like her breathe life into the Sierra Club and make our accomplishments possible. Thank you for your dedication to the environment, Dian!

 

 

 

 

 


Revolutionizing Oregon: the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan becomes law

March 24, 2016

SolarPanelsBy Francesca Varela

Nearly every day I hear news about climate change, and usually it’s not good. Just the other day I read something about how temperatures are rising more quickly than predicted; how the rate at which the seas will rise has probably been underestimated. I’ve been reading about water rationing, and superstorms; stagnant weather ridges, and marine life migrating north; shells disintegrating off the backs of sea snails, and mass extinctions rivaling the end-Cambrian. I read all these things with a sense of urgency and a sense of loss, but also with a sense of hope. Because, in the midst of these warnings, something good has emerged—a solution; one that will hopefully inspire others to follow our lead.

On March 11th, Governor Kate Brown signed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (Senate Bill 1547) into law. The bill’s supporters included environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Oregon’s two largest utility companies, PGE and Pacific Power, who were well aware of the economic threat of coal decline and eager to prioritize clean energy.

WindFarm.jpgBy 2035, these utility companies will be completely coal-free. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is an incremental process that allows the companies to ease into things while still maintaining a sense of climactic urgency. Improving upon existing Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), the Plan mandates that the companies derive a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources—27% by 2025, 35% by 2030, 45% by 2035, landing eventually at 50% by 2040.

This increased use of renewable energy and the eventual elimination of coal will allow Oregon to reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050, and with no threat to consumers. The RPS can be temporarily suspended if meeting the requirement would interfere with grid reliability. Fair rates for customers are guaranteed long-term through the dispersion of renewable energy tax credits. And, if using more renewable energy would mean a rise in price of more than 4% for customers, the companies can postpone doing so. Considering the decreasing cost of renewables, however, they likely won’t need to.

Customers can also look forward to new opportunities, like a community solar program; a co-op of sorts in which you can invest in solar projects and claim ownership of them, reducing your electric bill while also making a positive environmental and social impact. 10% of the solar power generated from these programs is intended for low-income customers.

The Plan also includes a requirement that more energy come from small, local projects, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Local green energy means local green jobs, and a boost to Oregon’s economy.Powerlines

Some of this clean energy will be used to expand electric transportation, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels even further. Charging stations for electric cars, electric buses, and expanded public transportation can be expected as Pacific Power and PGE work on plans to build up our electric transportation sector.

The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is revolutionary in its total commitment to eliminating energy from coal, but there’s still more that can be done. The Healthy Climate Bill (Senate Bill 1574)—a “cap-and-invest” plan that would fine polluting industries and use the money to fund green initiatives and to support communities threatened by environmental injustice—didn’t pass this legislative session, but the Sierra Club and its allies plan to resurrect it during the 2017 session with the hope of deepening Oregon’s commitment to a clean, just future. You can help by reaching out to your local representative and reminding them that the transition to a green economy is a high priority—and make sure to thank them for the work that has already been done on the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan.

News of Oregon’s new law has spread far and wide, making headlines in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC News, and international newspapers like The Guardian. Oregon has become a world leader in the climate movement.

Haystack_Rock_Oregon.jpgThe sooner we do away with fossil fuels the less the oceans will rise, the less the water will acidify, the fewer animals will go extinct from habitat loss. Oregon will be coal-free by 2035. Only five years after that, at least half our energy will come from renewable resources. The passage of this act shows the rest of the country—and the world—that transitioning away from fossil fuels is positive and necessary. It’s without a doubt one of the most important things we will ever do as a society. Hopefully more states and countries will pass their own initiatives. Ours is a good beginning, and, hopefully, just that—the beginning.

 

 

 

 


Victory! Jordan Cove LNG Pipeline Denied

March 18, 2016

By Francesca Varela

How does this sound for a bad-news proposal? Stretch a 232-mile pipeline across forests and backyards, old-growth cedars and mushroom-sided streams, halfway across the state. Gouge the forest. Scar it. Fill said pipeline with natural gas—one of the dirtiest fuels available to us. Build a terminal in Coos Bay. Convert natural gas to liquid—AKA liquefied natural gas (LNG). Ship LNG to Asia. Stand at the edge of the wide Pacific and know that, across from it, the fuels will be burned and the greenhouse gases will rise and glisten and warm, and the entire world will be altered by it, perhaps beyond all retrieval.construction of the gas pipeline

This proposed export facility (at first intended to be an import facility) was named the Jordan Cove Energy Project, and for over a decade its impending construction was fervently opposed by environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club. Activists held protests and raised awareness, collaborating with landowners whose properties would have been intersected by the adjoining Pacific Connector Pipeline. Their hard work paid off when, on Friday, March 11, the project’s application was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Salem LNG Rally-May 26 2015

According to the FERC report, the denial has been issued “because the record does not support a finding that the public benefits of the Pacific Connector Pipeline outweigh the adverse effects on landowners.” And because the Jordan Cove export facility would be useless without the Pacific Connector Pipeline feeding it natural gas, FERC denied that application as well.

This is a victory for the many volunteers involved, for the communities who would have been impacted by eminent domain, and, of course, for the environment. Had the pipeline been approved, its construction would have led to expansive clear-cuts, denuding streams of important riparian shade that salmon and other fish rely on, and reducing habitat for endangered species like the northern spotted owl. Had the oceanside export facility also been approved, the Coos Bay estuary would have been dredged and degraded, negatively impacting already fragile marine life.

LNG tankerThe FERC denial is a good sign, but it’s not the end; there’s still a chance that the proposal could be reconsidered if the companies behind it—Veresen Inc. and Williams Partners—are able to convince officials of the market value and economic need of their project during the rehearing process. In fact, the entire approvals process is a complicated, many-stepped ordeal involving multiple permits and regulating agencies, both state and federal.

There are still many permits pending with various agencies of the State of Oregon, and it is not clear that those processes will be halted just because of the FERC denial. In order to ensure that the Jordan Cove Energy Project is killed, officially and completely, we need to continue voicing our own disapproval by contacting Governor Kate Brown and asking her to support the FERC decision and shut down the project for good. See volunteer leader Ted Gleichman’s blog post for more info!

 


Volunteer Spotlight: FERC rejects Jordan Cove LNG!!!

March 18, 2016

(Here’s how it happened: Three and a Half Zeros, Plus a Minus)

By Ted Gleichman

Among the most important values of Sierra Club to our planet and society are effective grassroots action, long-term attention to detail, and structured commitment to change.  With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s astounding decision against the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and the Pacific Connector Pipeline projects (JC/PCP), we are reaping the fruit of many years of work, within Sierra Club and with many important and expert allies in coalition.

A sample of what we're trying to protect (Photo credit: Ted Gleichman)

A sample of what we’re trying to protect (Photo credit: Ted Gleichman)

On March 6, I told 35 activists assembled in Eugene for our quarterly anti-LNG strategy session that I thought there was a genuine chance that FERC would deny Federal approval and eminent domain for JC/PCP.  (People scoffed.)  On March 11, FERC unanimously rejected the pipeline, and therefore the terminal!

I’m not a prophet, nor was I the first Oregon activist to figure this out.  That honor goes to a landowner couple on the PCP route, Deb Evans and Ron Schaaf of Jackson and Klamath counties, who dug deep into FERC history, policy, and procedures, and simultaneously fought hard to help other landowners resist the arrogant low-dollar easement offers that JC/PCP tossed at them.  Deb and Ron put together – and, with other landowners, paid for – a formal legal filing with FERC that the Commissioners explicitly praised in their denial order.

Ron and Deb also schooled me, in exhaustive detail, over a long weekend in early January at their home in the mountains above Ashland.  We did a thorough and careful analysis (aided, fortunately, by a couple of bottles of good wine).  Here’s why we concluded this ground-breaking FERC rejection was possible:

  • Veresen Inc., the Alberta oil and gas shipper that owns Jordan Cove and co-owns PCP with Williams (the brutal Oklahoma pipeline company) is a financial mess.  They barely make money and their market capitalization has dropped by more than half since the beginning of the oil crash, to less than $2 billion.  In recent months, they’ve been trying cut back on their miniscule financial aid commitments to Coos Bay and the pipeline communities.
  • After 11 years of promoting JC/PCP, Veresen had netted a grand total of “three and a half zeros”: Zero contracts to sell gas in Asia; zero supplier contracts with frackers in the Rockies and Alberta; zero sources of financing for this $7.5 billion project set, which they can’t afford to build on their own – and fewer than 5% of landowners on the pipeline route who had sold them easements.
  • FERC traditionally is all about the so-called “free market”: they almost invariably approve any corporation that has the financial means to plan, buy, build, and sell an energy project.  But Veresen has been failing all four of those market tests, leading to these 3½ Zeros.
  • Eminent domain has become increasingly toxic.  People and politicians of all stripes hate the savage assaults on farms, woodlands, businesses, and family homes by frackers and pipeline companies all over the United States.  Eminent domain is supposed to be a fair and open public process for the common good – not a private-profit work-around for greedy victimization.
  • FERC had never approved eminent domain for such a large number of families (some 630 landowners) with so few negotiated easements.  Our battle against PCP, with both grass-roots and professional environmental leadership from Sierra Club and many other wonderful organizations,  has been one of the most effective and politically-charged in the country.
  • FERC has been under severe political pressure nationally and especially on the East Coast, in the brutally-fracked Marcellus shale regions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.  LNG approvals by FERC in Maryland, Louisiana, and Texas have generated massive protests there and across the environmental movement.
  • We believe FERC was looking for an especially-weak project to deny, to be able to say that they are not just a rubber stamp. Hence, for an agency looking to defend itself, and to avoid the very worst of eminent domain, this gave us “plus a minus.”
Raging Grannies at Hike the Pipe

Raging Grannies at a rally against the pipeline and terminal, Coos Bay, September 2015 (Credit: Ted Gleichman)

So this remarkable FERC decision gives Oregon a major victory that thousands of people from many groups have fought for, now reverberating all over the country. In their ruling, unprecedented for any LNG or pipeline proposal, the FERC Commissioners explicitly said that a company with no contracts to sell a product (which, as noted, it doesn’t yet own, through a project that it can’t afford to build) could not demonstrate overall “public benefit” adequate to justify eminent domain harm to so many “landowners and communities.”

FERC also explicitly called out the work of National Sierra Club senior attorney Nathan Matthews, the brilliant LNG specialist within our expert Environmental Law Program.  The Commissioners noted in detail the specific elements of our condemnation of JC/PCP and the FERC staff’s construction of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  We have every right to be proud of the Member-owned and staff-built organization that has evolved since John Muir founded it 124 years ago.

Part of the Ruby Pipeline natural gas compressor and transfer station, near Malin in Klamath County

Part of the Ruby Pipeline natural gas compressor and transfer station, near Malin in Klamath County (Credit: Ted Gleichman)

What’s Next?  Because LNG in Oregon is Not Dead Yet

FERC put JC/PCP in a coffin, but they also gave them a path to climb out, saying in essence, come see us again if you get any contracts to sell LNG.  So we are not done.

Plus we also face Oregon LNG, which is proceeding with their plans for massive pipelines through Washington from Canada, across Northern Oregon, and feeding an LNG export terminal in Warrenton, across from Astoria on the Lower Columbia. This $7 billion project is financially strong but politically and technically very weak. FERC staff will issue the Oregon LNG FEIS on June 3.  We need to add Oregon LNG to the JC/PCP coffin, then nail it shut on both of them.

So our next post will include details on our coffin-completion construction plans – stay tuned!  The focus now will be on the State of Oregon and Governor Kate Brown: they now need to do their part, and we will keep you posted.

In the meantime, please do two very important things:

  1. If you have the capacity to work with the Oregon Chapter Beyond Gas & Oil Team, please contact team chair Gregory Monahan at gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org. We’ve got a lot to do, on LNG and many other fossil fuel attacks!
  2. If you have the capacity to help support the Oregon Chapter even more, please dig deep!  You can make a direct donation, upgrade your Sierra Club membership level, or give a gift membership.  Remember: we Members own the place – so we have an obligation to stewardship.  We have a great staff at the Oregon Chapter, and we need to keep them fed and watered!

From a long-time volunteer Member-leader: thanks for all you do!

Ted Gleichman — 503-781-2498 — Twitter: @tedgleichman
Member, National Strategy Team & National Delivery Team, Stop Dirty Fuels Initiative, Sierra Club
Policy Advisor, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, Oregon Sierra Club


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